Friday, November 28, 2014

A Man's Success

True or False?

A man’s success is determined by his net worth.
A man’s success is measured by how well he provides for his family materially.
A man’s success is equated with how much power and influence he wields in the world.
A man’s success is based on how much he produces.
A man’s success depends on how smart, formally educated and clever he is.

How many of these did you answer true? How many false?
Beyond arguments of right and wrong for any of these statements, which statements have had the most impact in your life? Which ones most influenced your decisions about how you’ve spent or are spending your lifetime?

I believe that our ideas of what constitutes success literally become the blueprint for how we make our life decisions and lead our lives. The blueprint formed by the statements above is one that becomes programmed early in a boy’s life and for most men becomes the very basis of their lives. I know these statements have had an impact on how I view myself and other men.

Is there really any other way to look at what makes for success in a man’s life?

In the film, Bucket List, with death knocking at their doors, two older guys conspire to do what they had not yet done, the list mostly consisting of physical feats and things, stuff they may have put off while busy following societal scripts for success and being responsible adults.

In contrast, a palliative care nurse in Australia discovered a different kind of bucket list when she counseled dying patients in their last 12 weeks on earth. There was no mention of more sex or skydiving. Instead she asked about and heard common regrets. Among the top regrets for men was, “I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.”

Here are the top five regrets in a nutshell.

1. I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
"This was the most common regret of all. When people realize that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. Most people had not honored even half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made.”
2. I wish I hadn't worked so hard.
"This came from every male patient that I nursed. They missed their children's youth and their partner's companionship. Women also spoke of this regret, but as most were from an older generation, many of the female patients had not been breadwinners. All of the men I nursed deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence."
3. I wish I'd had the courage to express my feelings.
"Many people suppressed their feelings in order to keep peace with others. As a result, they settled for a mediocre existence and never became who they were truly capable of becoming. Many developed illnesses relating to the bitterness and resentment they carried as a result."
4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
"Often they would not truly realize the full benefits of old friends until their dying weeks and it was not always possible to track them down. Many had become so caught up in their own lives that they had let golden friendships slip by over the years. There were many deep regrets about not giving friendships the time and effort that they deserved. Everyone misses their friends when they are dying."
5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.
"This is a surprisingly common one. Many did not realize until the end that happiness is a choice. They had stayed stuck in old patterns and habits. The so-called 'comfort' of familiarity overflowed into their emotions, as well as their physical lives. Fear of change had them pretending to others, and to their selves, that they were content, when deep within, they longed to laugh properly and have silliness in their life again."

If this retrospective laser clarity can appear at the end of a man’s life, why not sooner, why wait until it’s too late to realize real fulfillment? Why not define success for yourself now and live that at whatever age you are?

The most profoundly simple and powerful process I know for that is The Passion Test. It’s given me deep confirmation of what is most important and what brings me the most happiness in my life. It then gives me a baseline from which to begin living that way from where I am, one step at a time. It has given me and tens of thousands of others a way to define success on their own terms in the face of old blueprints, old scripts of what others have told them about success and how their worth is measured.

The question is: Are you ready to trade the “comfort of familiarity”, old stories, patterns and habits referred to by palliative care nurse Bronnie Ware for a life filled with even more happiness and success (on your terms) than you may have imagined?
I welcome you to join me for an hour of that self-discovery. I have my wife and business partner Karin Lubin take me through the process at the end of each year and beginning of the next. And I do the same for her. Having someone ask you questions so you can listen to your own heart’s answers is profound.
And finally this from the new book by 88 year old pop and jazz singer Tony Bennett, Life Is A Gift: The Zen of Tony Bennett
"Shed the idea of competition, and of being the best. Instead, desire to improve only by being yourself."
"If you follow your passion, you'll never work a day in your life."
Bronnie Ware recorded her patient’s dying epiphanies in a blog called Inspiration and Chai, which gathered so much attention that she put her observations into a book called The Top Five Regrets of the Dying.
The Passion Test: The Effortless Path to Discovering Your Life Purpose by Janet Bray Attwood and Chris Attwood   (a NY Times best-seller that has stayed at the top of Amazon lists for years)
NEW! Your Hidden Riches: Unleashing the Power of Ritual to Create a Life of Meaning and Purpose by Janet Bray Attwood and Chris Attwood with Sylva Dvorak, PH.D  Recently released and already a NY Times best-seller Your Hidden Riches reaffirms the value of the principles and process of The Passion Test inside a treasure trove of rituals for making your ideal life come true one ritual at a time.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

True Friendships Among Men

I was having a hard time of it. Really struggling to keep my head on straight and emotionally spent. A friend called just to see how I was doing.
He did not share his opinions.
He did not try to give me advice or win me over to seeing things his way.
He did not start talking about all the things my situation reminded him of.
He did not start talking about other people.
He did not do much talking at all.

In that moment, what he did not do defined as much of what I consider authentic friendship as what he did do.

So what then did he do, this friend?
My second sentence from the top is a giveaway.
He just called to see how I was doing--- with no other agenda.
After he asked the question, he listened. Really listened. So well I could tell he was not quietly constructing the next thing he was going to say. He was present for me.

Many men today have a difficult time doing this. I’ve spent years learning it and am committed to getting better at it for the rest of my life. I’ve come to see not doing it can leave me and other men feeling isolated, lonely, friendless and depressed.  Learning and practicing this has provided me with untold benefits, surprises and treasures. You may have heard the expression, “if you want friends, be one.” Well here is a pretty good place to begin. When was the last time you called up a man friend just to see how he was doing….and then listened?

With the kinds of training and conditioning boys and men receive that pits them against each other in the competition and comparison game, the homophobia that only more recently is beginning to ease up in some cultures, and the epidemic problem of depression in both young and older men, men are often challenged to find models of true friendship, and further to create and sustain their own. Many men carry a big load of hurt from absent, neglectful, emotionally distant or abusive fathers or father figures. And from an early age we’ve been separated from other boys and men by ruthless competition. It’s no surprise that many men only feel comfortable being close and vulnerable with women, or more particularly with one woman. That dependency comes with it’s own problems for both men and women.

What do I mean by “true friendship” with other men?

I’ll begin with two elements that the great American philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson believed formed the backbone of his closest relationships with men. I believe they form mine as well.

Emerson said that these two elements were equally important.

“One is truth. A friend is a person with whom I may be sincere. Before him I may think aloud. I am arrived at last in the presence of a man so real and so equal that I may drop even those undergarments of dissimulation, courtesy, and second thought, which men never put off, and may deal with him with the simplicity and wholeness with which one chemical atom meets another….
…The other element of friendship is tenderness. We are holden to every sort of tie, by blood, by pride, by fear, by hope, by lucre, by lust, by hate, by admiration, by every circumstance and badge and trifle—but we can scarce believe that so much character can subsist in another as to draw us by love. Can another be so blessed and we so pure that we can offer him tenderness? When a man becomes dear to me I have touched the goal of fortune.”

There are most certainly as many ways to express friendship as there are actual friendships, and the language with which we express our truth and tenderness can vary in form.

I so appreciate the work of Gary Chapman and his series of books beginning with The Five Love Languages. Gary talks about how people have different preferences for the way they both receive and give love in relationships. The way they prefer to receive and get most filled up is generally the way they deliver it to others, usually not recognizing that their friends or partner may have a different preference. The five languages are:

Acts of Service
Words of Appreciation
Physical Affection
Quality Time

My top two love language preferences that are pretty much guaranteed to fill me up are Quality Time and Words of Appreciation.
One of my great passions in life is to spend quality time with friends, which can range from a half hour phone call to a multi-week outdoor adventure. Because it is so difficult for many men to initiate that, I often find myself to be the one to do so and am so thrilled and grateful when others initiate, even if I have to decline an invitation to talk in the moment or get together right away.

The important thing to understand here is that when you learn the love language preferences of your friend, new or old, you are taking another step closer to true friendship by speaking their language instead of just your own. 

For example, if I get that my friend’s preference for receiving love is helping him work on his car, house or boat, (Acts of Service) I offer to help. It’s also a pretty good fit as my preference is to spend Quality Time, which could really be doing most any activity as long as we are hanging out together.

There are many more aspects to the art of friendship and many reasons friendship is so important to me and others. My hope is that every man will in his life have close true friends, not to do what he can do for himself, but to reflect the best in him in order for him to be his best.

Another man I respect shares this about true friendship.

With every true friendship we build more firmly the foundations on which the peace of the whole world rests.  --Ghandi

Like what you’ve read here? Let the author know about your interest in the forthcoming book:
Lone Ranger No More: A Guy’s Guide to Making, Keeping and Letting Go of Friends
By Randy Crutcher

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Is Compassion Worth a Dime?

That face keeps coming back to me from the newspaper photo. That tear-streaked, chin puckered, lips turned down at the corner anguished little boy’s face. The one inside a shelter that was supposed to be safe from attack—but was not.

What do we do when that little boy, his parents and others are so far from being safe, even for a day? I try to understand that both sides, though so unevenly matched in firepower, are essentially terrified and feeling unsafe. How can they feel safe?
There are peaceful political solutions that could honor both heritage and freedom. They are out of reach because fear is trumping compassion, and compassion is the glue that holds humanity together. Its absence tears us and our world apart.

Given the seeming enormity of human conflict and problems, where do we gain a foothold in expressing our own compassion?

My good friend Don Eaton in Santa Fe, New Mexico has a non-profit organization called Small Change whose efforts to teach compassion and facilitate compassion in action are distinctive in that Don talks about two kinds of hunger, the hunger of the heart/spirit and the hunger of the body.
Don and his board are committed to the belief that each of us can do something about both kinds of hunger. They address the first with
programs, events and projects that inspire, empower, challenge and educate people to make small changes in thought, word, and action, to grow in compassion for themselves, others, and the earth. They reach people through concerts (including house concerts), retreats, seminars, and lectures. Don writes and records original songs and produces CDs that help inspire and encourage people to be "compassion in action."

At each of these events they hope that what is said, what is sung about, and what is discussed will create in people a desire to make small changes in their own lives to "be compassion" in the world. At each of the events and programs people are asked to make one small change, which is to save their small change (coins) for hunger relief. People are asked to save and donate their small change to Small Change. Every cent saved goes to direct hunger relief. The small change donated to this Hunger Fund is used to supply relief agencies with oral rehydration salt packets (ORS), (each costing about a dime!) to help save the lives of people who would otherwise die from the dehydration that accompanies starvation. An encouraging quote from the website is:
Remember, "No one makes a bigger mistake than the person who does nothing because they can only do a little."

There are many people, organizations, and services that exemplify compassion in action. You may contribute to or be one of them.
How do we create more of us and reach critical mass in the larger world?
As an educator, I know it begins with parents and teachers.
When my wife was an elementary school principal, one way she enjoyed spending time with students was to join them in forming a “Kindness Club.”
Kids would make a list of different “random acts of kindness,” then formulate ways they could have fun carrying them out. And they did! They never seemed to run out of things to do with and for each other.

What about at home, the place we create new generations of compassionate adults?

Richard Weissbourd, a Harvard psychologist with the graduate school of education heads the Making Caring Common project, a program teaching kids how to be kind. The group just released a new study in which 80% of the youth studied said their parents were more concerned with their achievement or happiness than whether they cared for others. The interviewees were three times more likely to agree that, “My parents are prouder if I get good grades in my classes than if I’m a caring community member in class and school.”
Weissbourd and his group provide recommendations and five strategies for raising children to become caring, respectful and responsible adults. I paraphrase here.

1. Make caring for others a priority.
Children need to hear from parents that caring for others is a top priority, and learn to balance their needs with the needs of others, honoring commitments made to others. Before quitting a team, band or friendship, parents can ask their children to consider their obligations to the group or friend and encourage them to work things out.
Make sure older children always address others respectfully, even when tired, distracted or angry.

2.  Provide opportunities for children to practice caring and gratitude.
Children need to practice caring for others and expressing gratitude for those who care for them and contribute to others’ lives. Studies show that people who are in the habit of expressing gratitude are more likely to be helpful, generous, compassionate and forgiving—and they’re also more likely to be happy and healthy. Learning to be caring is a practice and requires repetition to become second nature-- whether it’s helping a friend with homework, pitching in around the house, or having a classroom job.
Be careful not to reward every act of service or kindness your child performs, as it should be expected that these are just a part of life. Reward uncommon acts of kindness.
Make gratitude a daily ritual at dinnertime, bedtime or in the car. Express thanks for those who contribute to us and others in large and small ways.

3. Expand their circle of concern
The challenge is to help children learn to care about someone outside of their small circle of family and friends, such as the new kid in class, someone who does not speak their language, someone in a distant country.
Children need to learn to zoom in by listening closely and attending to those in their immediate circle, and to zoom out, by taking in the big picture and considering the many perspectives of the people they interact with daily, including those who are vulnerable. Especially in our more global world children need help in developing concern for people who live in very different cultures and communities than their own.
Use a newspaper or TV story to encourage your child to think about hardships faced by children in another country.

4.  Be a strong role model
Children learn values by watching the actions of adults and through thinking through ethical dilemmas with adults, e.g., “Should I invite a new neighbor to my birthday party when my best friend doesn’t like her or him?
Being a role model for compassion and kindness means to practice honesty, fairness and caring ourselves. It does not mean being perfect, it means acknowledging mistakes and flaws that help earn a child’s respect and trust. And we need to respect children’s thinking and listen to their perspectives, demonstrating to them how we want them to engage others.

5.  Guide children in managing destructive feelings.
Often the ability to care for others is overwhelmed by anger, shame, envy or other negative feelings.
We need to teach children that all feelings are OK, but some ways of dealing with them are not helpful. Children need our help learning to cope with these feelings in productive ways.
Here’s a simple way to teach your kids to calm down: Ask your child to stop, take a deep breath through the nose and exhale through the mouth, and count to five. Practice when your child is calm. Then, when you see her or him getting upset remind him or her about the steps and do them with your child. After awhile they will start to do it on their own and be in a better place to express feelings in a helpful way.

It occurs to me that there is not one thing recommended for teaching kids compassion that does not apply to me. It’s important for me to take stock from time to time with regard to where I am with all this and be grateful I have the safety and the time to think and write this today. Oh, and yes, I think I can spare a dime.

Small Change organization website:
Don Eaton’s song “I Am One Voice”

Making Caring Common website:

Feeding and Being Fed- A Three Minute Video

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Food, Passion, Father and Son

Some of my fondest memories today consist of the time I spent with my father working side by side. Actually, it was not all fun but it gave me a sense of closeness with him, a growing sense of personal mastery with the tasks we completed together and an understanding of what work was and what it meant to be a passionate “working man.”

Last night, on the eve of Father’s Day, I saw the movie “Chef” with Jon Favreau (Elf) playing Carl Casper, a head chef working in a successful restaurant in LA, friends with an ex-spouse but somewhat estranged from their ten year old son.

Carl loves to cook and commands the respect of all the staff who work with him but the owner won’t let him stray too far from the standard menu so his passions are constantly kept in check. Ever been in a situation like that yourself? Carl and a food critic get into a tussle that ends with Carl leaving his long tenure at the restaurant and suddenly finding himself totally broke and on his own.

Carl tries to be the father he feels he never was when living as a family but it takes awhile for his son, brilliantly played by Emjay Anthony to convince Carl that all he wants is to be with his father, learn from him and share in his passion for preparing food, really really good food. And there is something this ten year old already excels at that ends up being a big help in transforming his father’s life….social media.

I don’t want to spoil it for you because I want you to see the movie. It’s treatment of gender relations is surprisingly healthy with two women in Carl’s life only trying to help him live his real passion full out despite old baggage with his ex-wife (Sofia Vergara) and some sexual tension but mostly sweet friendship with the restaurant hostess played by Scarlet Johannson. Neither gives up any of themselves to help Carl believe in himself.
I loved the scenes of male bonding between Carl and his pal from the LA scene (line cook played by John Leguizamo) that more than fortifies the journey Carl and his son travel across country in a food truck and more deeply into each other’s hearts. Not billed as a Father’s Day special, it’s very special and says more about the struggle of many fathers today than most non-fiction I’ve run across. Plus, it has some absolutely gut-splitting moments.

One of the effects of the Great Recession has been dads out of work. One of the side effects has been more dads spending time with their kids, in some cases becoming the primary caregiver at home.

Just this past week the Pew Research Center released a report that 2.2 million U.S. dads stayed at home with their kids in 2010, slipping down to 2 million by 2012 as the jobless rate eased up.
Stay at home dads were defined as those not employed in the prior year and living with children 17 years old or younger.
The largest share of at-home dads, 35 percent, said they were home due to illness or disability. Roughly 23 percent said it was mainly because they couldn’t find a job, and 21 percent said it was specifically to care for home or family.

By contrast, 1.1 million men were at home dads in l989, the earliest year those kinds of data were available. The 21 percent in 2012 who cited caring for home and children as the reason for being out of the workforce was up from 5 percent in l989 to 18 percent in 2007, the start of the recession.
The study states that while unemployment is a factor overall, a convergence of gender roles has made it more acceptable for dads to be caregivers and mom to be responsible for breadwinning, though affluent highly educated dads at home raising children remain a subset.

Despite the phenomenon gaining greater acceptance other Pew research shows 51 percent of the public believes kids are better off when the mother stays at home compared to 8 percent that cited dads.
In the movie Chef, there is worry and concern by mom for the safety and welfare of her child on this road trip. But she also seems to know he is having the time of his life with dad and surrogate uncle.

As in my own experience at age 10 and for Caspar’s son, there are some rites of passage that require a men’s only time, space and place. 
Enjoy the movie Chef, while celebrating and supporting more closeness and nurturing between father and son wherever and whenever it can be found. 

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Maybe baby-It's time to talk about population

As a mid-stream baby boomer I’ve watched the world add between 4 and 5 billion more people to its surface since my birth.

Along with awakening to the cumulative impact we have on air, water, soil, forests, oceans, climate and all living things and systems, some also recognize that the more people you have in one place, the more conflict there is over resources of all kinds. Increasing human numbers make conflict inevitable. How conflicts are resolved are not. We’ve chosen both peaceful and violent means….and we still do on a daily basis. The fact remains, more of us are not making things any easier.

Twenty years ago the Dalai Lama said this:

“The population problem is a serious reality. In India, some
people were reluctant to accept birth control because of religious
traditions. So I thought, from the Buddhist viewpoint, there is a
possibility of flexibility on this problem. I thought it might be good to
speak out and eventually create more open space for leaders in other
religious traditions to discuss the issue.”

How much speaking out is there these days? It’s been 50 years since scientist Paul Ehrlich got us to recognize that the “population bomb” is ticking. I find that the discussions about this underlying cause of so much planetary stress are rarely a table topic these days. Have people just become jaded and given up in the face of what seems inevitable, the net addition (after subtracting deaths) of 34 million more people just since the beginning of this year? It does seem daunting. And it could be worse.

Full disclosure is that I was once a Director of Education for a Planned Parenthood affiliate. The non-profit is one of the largest and most effective voluntary family planning education and service delivery organizations in history. It and other efforts have helped people for many decades to decide when to have children and how many, rather than rely on roulette as the primary way of bringing healthy children into the world. And it is one of the ways that people with lower income have gained access to primary health care, in some cases saving lives. In effect, our population would be far greater (and sicker) at this point without policies and funding that provide people choices. And where these services are available, there is less human suffering and more prosperity. 

When I was hired at Planned Parenthood, it was in large part due to the fact that I had established a center for men that provided information and education about reproductive health and responsibility. It was understood that until we more fully address the needs and psychology of men in the realm of reproductive choices, responsibility would continue to largely fall on women's shoulders. Now, a new test for fertility is coming to market that will help men immediately discover whether they are fertile or not. I am curious if this will lead to greater awareness on the part of men, not just those desperate to have their own biological offspring, but an overall recognition of the role men play in bringing more of us into an overpopulated world, one decision, one person, one couple, one family at a time.

Back to the Dalai Llama talking about religious beliefs in India 20 years ago, (a country now straining under an incredible 1.2 billion humans), it still remains that belief systems control behavior. Whether it’s religious conviction, nationalism, a sense of ethnic preservation or other social ideology justifying why we should continue to “be fruitful and multiply,” at root is usually an entitled sense of male dominance and control at worst, male pride at best that too often spirals our numbers beyond carrying capacity all over the world. That, and the notion that technology solves all problems and will solve this one by finding more Earths to populate. It hasn’t and it won’t.

It’s time again to talk about how to keep our numbers in check instead of relying on war, famine, disease and now climate change to do the job. We need to consider those people who have been at this effort for a long time and give them our support in the form of time or money or both.
One of those efforts I have supported over the years is the United Nations Fund for Population Activities.  All over the world it has delivered services where least available and difficult to access. A few dollars go a long way.

And what about making population a table or bedroom topic again? Very intelligent and educated people need to consider right now their decisions about how many children they have in the larger context the Dalai Lama and other leaders have spoken about. And those less educated need access to information and services as part of a comprehensive health and wellness approach. We need to see this topic reintroduced in the mass media and consistently framed as a fundamental problem that can be addressed in a humane way that elevates human freedoms and liberty instead of being perceived as taking them away.

Monday, April 7, 2014

The New Autism for Boys- Where are the real deficits?

        For some time now in our culture, the words “attention deficit” have been liberally applied to children and most predominantly with boys.
The pharmaceutical industry receives billions in profits from child prescriptions that help “manage,” these deficits and disorders. With that “management”, the incidence seems to still be on the rise.
And now we have an astonishing new study and report that says autism in children and particularly for boys has seen a dramatic rise.
Here’s the latest news from the US government’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention
In the U.S. about 1 in 68 children (or 14.7 per 1,000 8 year olds) were identified with what is now called ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) in 2013 based on data collected on 8-year-old children living in 11 communities. This new estimate is roughly 30% higher than the estimate for 2008 (1 in 88), roughly 60% higher than the estimate for 2006 (1 in 110), and roughly 120% higher than the estimates for 2002 and 2000 (1 in 150).
Boys were almost 5 times more likely to be identified with ASD than girls. About 1 in 42 boys and 1 in 189 girls were identified with ASD.
The Center for Disease Control does not know what is causing this increase. They say that some of it may be due to the way children are identified, diagnosed, and served in their local communities, but exactly how much is unknown.
About 80% of children identified with ASD either received special education services for autism at school or had an ASD diagnosis from a clinician. This means that the remaining 20% of children identified with ASD had symptoms of ASD documented in their records, but had not yet been classified as having ASD by a community professional in a school or clinic.

In a recent AP article, investigators have said that autism is now used as a diagnosis for a broader array of learning disorders and conditions than it used to be. And that could be a factor in explaining why autism is exploding along with claims we are getting “better” at diagnosing. As with “attention deficit disorder” or “attention deficit hyperactive disorder,” it seems to me that we may run some risks when we create what some physicians have called “garbage can” diagnoses, or the gathering up of a wider and wider pool of symptom descriptions, trying to fit them into one category, then coming up with a one size fits all treatment model based on the new disease category rather than a full examination of an individual boy’s life.
I’d like to take a look at some of the health and social deficits that are affecting boys, that could be at the root of what at least some if not all of the boys behind the new statistics are actually experiencing.

The Nutrition and Exercise Deficit

Obesity is beginning to drop in all populations with the exception of young boys. Faux food (aka junk food) still on school cafeteria menus and predominant in lower income families with less access to whole healthy foods is a known factor in creating the obesity epidemic. Obesity puts many of the body’s systems on overload and creates systemic inflammation that can affect brain function in the young as well as old. Nutritionally empty calories are more dangerous than formerly thought as they can affect brain chemistry leading to social and behavioral problems.
There is a race to create uniform academic standards everywhere but no physical education standards based on the latest research in exercise physiology that I am aware of, at least not one that has gained national recognition and support.

Nature Deficit

This generation of modern industrial world boys spends the least amount of time outdoors than any other known in history. More is now known about some of the health consequences of Vitamin D3 deficits caused by limited exposure to natural sunlight. We know that kids that play outdoors regularly get more exercise. We also know that regular contact with the outdoors and nature has a powerful affect on our brain chemistry and can boost the immune system.

Father Deficit

Dr. Gregory Ramey, Executive Director of Dayton’s Children’s Pediatric Center for Mental Health Resources tells us that 47 percent of kids report that moms are their most influential relationships, compared to only 20% for dads. This may be due in part to the fact that 75% of single parent homes are headed by moms, so these kids just don’t have much access to dads. Even in two-parent families, children have little routine contact with their fathers. Despite a dramatic change in the last 50 years, moms still spend twice as much time caring for kids than dads. Dads are still somewhat of a mystery for sons and daughters.  And kids feel they get in more trouble with dads cast in the disciplinarian role. Even when dads are around, many kids don’t feel connected to them as they don’t seem emotionally available. Children complain about their fathers watching TV, using smart phones or sleeping after a long day at work.

Classroom Deficit

Crowded classrooms still based on the old factory model of education with a lot of seat time and less individualized attention may be at the root of much of what has been diagnosed as “attention deficit” in individual boys. Boys are routinely disciplined more than girls with more attention focused on “bad behavior” and punishment than the fostering of pro-social behaviors. The developmental needs of boys are still poorly understood and addressed in the classroom and on the playground.

So, what can be done to eliminate these deficits and bring our boys back from the brink of these diagnoses, both real and socially constructed?

There is more awareness than ever before about the obesity epidemic with better food available in some chain grocery stores that make available whole healthy real food. Both families and schools are waking up to the vital role nutrition plays in physical and mental health as information is readily available in print and virtually.

Dr. Mark Hyman, MD has clinical experience with eliminating some conditions labeled as autism with non-pharmaceutical as well as non-behavioral management approaches. A pioneer in functional medicine, he and a growing number of physicians are looking to address multiple health and social factors in treating the individual rather than a symptom complex or diagnosis.

Schools with smaller classrooms, state of the art classroom management techniques and refined special education programs that understand and address the whole student stand a better chance of success. Supporting teachers to balance the need for meeting academic standards with the need to address each student on the basis of their passions, interests, cognitive, affective and behavioral skills acquisition is key. 

Nationally and internationally implemented programs such as Healthy Play As A Solution and The Passion-Based classroom derived from The Passion Test for Kids and Teens program can help create nurturing and nourishing learning environments that create more safety, joy, student and teacher satisfaction and achievement.
Providing more school counselors and integrated programs that provide students with close case management by teams composed of educators, classified staff and parents could make a real difference and do where put into practice.

Fathers can provide more emotional support when they are not automatically cast as the bad guys. Consequences for kids can be discussed and implemented by both parents. Dads can turn off their electronic devices and go outside to play with their kids as well as reacquaint themselves and their kids with nature, whether it’s the park down the street or further afield. They can ask more questions and get to know their kids while letting their kids get to know them.

Perhaps the word “spectrum” in the newer term Autism Spectrum Disorder can be even more useful in that each individual child or boy needs to be viewed as somewhere on a spectrum, not of disease, but where he can and is moving toward greater health and function through our more careful examination and engagement with a full spectrum of deficits our society has created that undermines the health and well being of our boys. When we take all deficits into account and correct them, our society will be on the road to bringing up healthier boys who can become healthier, more positively engaged and responsible young men.

Links to references:

Center for Disease Control and Prevention:

"Don't be a Distant Dad" Dr. Gregory Ramey
Dayton Children’s Pediatric Center for Mental Health Resources

Mark Hyman, MD   (Case studies in his book The UltraMind Solution)    

Sunday, March 16, 2014

New Focus on Boys of Color

              When I was eight years old my parents packed me up and sent me off to YMCA camp in the Angeles National Forest straight out of our south Los Angeles suburban neighborhood. I didn’t know what hit me, but I realized I was about to get hit!

Another kid and I composed a white minority in a cabin filled with boys much darker-skinned than us. A sensitive kid, I was immediately assaulted by the anger, the frustration and the violence of boys I had never met and never been around. It was like being dropped into an alien world on another planet and I was terrified. I can’t now imagine my well meaning parents had knowingly sent me there. In fact, they must have been pretty clueless. That or they had overestimated my ability to survive on other planets!

Now, the tale Lord of the Flies comes to mind. Then, I had no experience with that level of aggression  or racism or much in the way of what life was really like even a couple miles from my safe little post-WWII home and neighborhood. Terms like “inner city youth,” had no meaning for me let alone complex concepts like racial prejudice, historic discrimination or institutional racism.

The dawning in my awareness of a divided world, however, did happen before that nightmare camp experience. I remember my parents and immigrant grandparents traveling with me in a car through a part of town to reach a particular delicatessen to purchase their favorite sausage. Even on a warm day, the windows were rolled up….before most cars had air conditioning. I remember accompanying my dad who was taking our old Plymouth to a white mechanic in a “negro” neighborhood.

Luckily I did survive the calling out and threats of the boys in my cabin without getting pummeled. Others may not have been as lucky. Though I have no memory of it, there must have been a camp counselor somewhere on the premises. Actually, I have an old black and white photo to prove it, though I have no actual memory of adults present.

Not long after that Y camp, my family moved away to the high desert, returning for visits to my grandparents and on one occasion to a city in flames. Watts, the city just to the east of our old neighborhood had become one of the flashpoints for the extreme dissatisfaction of an historically oppressed people whose boats did not seem to be rising quite the same as others in the great middle class American Dream, to say the least.

Though I will never walk in the shoes of those boys I encountered at camp, I’m grateful that I have come to learn much more about why they seemed to live on the defensive, looking for the next conflict or way to show who was boss. It can be said that Lord of the Flies dynamic exists to some extent wherever boys of any color or background congregate with little supervision. Now I know some other factors were in the mix for these African American boys from the inner city, conditions no boy or anyone should have to face in the already tough job of growing up in modern America.

As reported in the Associated Press by Jesse J. Holland, last month President Barack Obama, a man of many colors himself launched what is called, “My Brother’s Keeper,” an initiative to urge stronger efforts in creating more opportunities for young men of color and to improve conditions that keep them impoverished and imprisoned in disproportionate numbers.
“By almost every measure, the group that is facing some of the most severe challenges in the 21st century in this country are boys and young men of color,” as the President ticked off statistics on fatherhood, literacy, crime and poverty.
“We assume this is an inevitable part of American life instead of the outrage that it is, “ he said from the White House East Room while surrounded by teenagers involved in the “Becoming A Man” program to help at-risk boys in his hometown of Chicago. He said he sees himself in them.

Under this initiative, businesses, foundations and community groups would coordinate their investments to come up with, or support, programs that keep youths in school and out of the criminal justice system, while improving their access to higher education. Several foundations pledged at least $200 million over five years to promote that goal. A government-wide task force will be evaluating the effectiveness of various approaches so that federal and local governments, community groups and businesses will have best practices to follow in the future. 
An online “What Works” portal will provide public access to data about programs that improve outcomes for young minority men. This is an initiative that both the President and first lady Michelle Obama plan to commit to for the rest of their lives.

That certainly makes sense to me, though I believe it should be made clear that race and class, though inextricably intertwined, are also separate issues to be addressed. Many of the same problems the President cites for black youth, also beset boys of all colors in lower socio-economic groups. Not mentioned in the AP piece is that there is a whole middle class of color that has arisen since the l960’s Civil Rights days and it should be made clear that color and poverty do not always go together. We don’t want to keep upholding stereotypes that divide us.

With regard to the unique challenges African American boys and men have faced for so long, we know they won’t go away overnight no matter how much money is amassed to address the economic gaps.  What I see in this recent initiative that may be different is that perhaps an even greater transformation is truly getting underway as more people see beyond the boundaries of their more comfortable and privileged lives, then reach across those to join in these new efforts to help boys and men most in need. It’s a start.

For discrimination, both personal and institutional, to become an artifact of history in this century it will take everyone moving beyond Black History as a month to celebrate accomplishments of those who’ve gone unrecognized and on to building a future that includes and empowers the energy, skills and talents of all those young lives emerging today. We really can't afford not to. 

And that’s the kind of planet I want to live on.

To more easily register comments you can e-mail Randy at

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

What's the Difference? Overcoming the legacy of racism

Driving my car slowly out of the U.S. Army National Guard base, I immediately spotted a group of young men in white t-shirts, long pants and black boots walking my way.

I clenched and took a closer look at these darker-skinned-than-me young guys bobbing along in a throng.

Then they spotted me and suddenly I heard my name ring out, “Randy!”

What? Oh my god. These were my guys, the ones I had just spent the greater part of a day with in my role as leadership and communication trainer for the statewide training center of the California Conservation Corps. I cared about them. They were not a gang, they were not inmates. They were youth taking extraordinary steps to make their lives better and make a positive difference in the world. And they’d taken off their uniform shirts to relax between training sessions in the sunshine and fresh air.
I was absolutely stunned I had mistaken them for a threat.  Gut punched with the realization—again—at my deep conditioning and fear of “the other,” despite serious efforts over the years to look at that and see how it had needlessly and harmfully separated me from other human beings.

Black history is celebrated this month in the US, as is Valentine’s Day. Other countries honor people of different heritages in their own ways.  Perhaps the celebration of these two things, one of a people’s struggle to overcome tremendous obstacles and their huge contribution to building the society we live in today and the focus on love this month are no mistake.

In addition to finally recognizing and honoring many more of the heroes in that struggle—I recently viewed the movie 12 Years a Slave and was amazed at both the atrocities and also the power of the human spirit to persevere— perhaps we can look more personally at today’s struggle to overcome and transform the barriers that have hurt and divided us from one another.

While reading a new book by National Public Radio’s Michelle Norris, The Grace of Silence, her most sincere effort to better understand the father who took care of her and his role and treatment during the entry of black soldiers into World War II service—a lesser known piece of the civil rights movement—I also learned about a project she had been involved with that encouraged people to talk about race.

In gearing up for her book tour she had printed 200 postcards asking people to express their thoughts on race in six words.
She found the results to be both “surprising and enlightening.”
The first cards she got were from friends and acquaintances. But after awhile ‘race cards’ came in from strangers, even people from other continents who’d never heard her speak. And the race cards keep coming. She and an assistant catalogued more than 12,000 submissions on People now send them via Facebook and Twitter or type them directly into the website.
A few of the submissions include:
“You know my race. NOT ME!”
“Chinese or American? Does it matter.”?
“I thought I knew a lot about race,” Norris said, “I realized how little I know through this project.”

I share this to highlight how much so many crave to express what may have been locked up inside a long time, perhaps a lifetime. There is an ongoing need for dialogue, safe and respectful, that can help tear down the walls we may not have created in the first place but largely subconsciously help hold in place.

Dialogue seems to be a starting place and Norris had already begun that work with an earlier project that got people together in person across differences to start the conversations.

Coming closer to home, who are your friends? Do you tend to surround yourself with people that look, think and share the same cultural history as you?

I honestly find that inertia takes me in that direction unless I purposely live in other cultures or go be with people not likely to show up--why would they?-- at events and places that are more homogenized with people that look and generally experience life as I do.  That could mean getting out of one’s comfort zone. When I have, the rewards have been great. I feel more of my own humanity when I learn about the history, experience and cultural delights of someone different than me. And that is where the ogre of negative stereotype can begin to break down and dissolve-- in the midst of budding friendship.
One of the more prominent psychologists of the mid-20th century, Gordon Allport, wrote a book entitled, The Psychology of Prejudice which became one of the books in a college class I taught by the same name. Many of my end-of-the-century students balked at his dated language while I found it to be some of the deepest thinking and practical knowledge about how to overcome the barriers of racism and fear of “the other.”

Allport lists one of the critical factors for moving beyond the artificially created boundaries placed between and implanted in individuals of the same species, as working together for a common cause. When a group of diverse individuals comes together to rise to adversity or meet a significant challenge, perceptions of difference begin to fade. That’s what can and did happen in my beloved and diverse corps of youth working to preserve the environment we all depend on. What becomes important is how “we are all in this together.”

And of course, now we ALL are. With ever increasing climate instability, loss of species and ecological complexity and its negative effects on people’s lives and livelihoods, we certainly have a common cause that can potentially help people rise to a new level of acceptance and tolerance at minimum, real solidarity, harmony, and yes, love at best. We don’t need to be attacked by aliens from outer space to bring us together now. We’ve challenge and opportunity enough.

So, dialogue, friendship and common cause turn out to be necessary ingredients to moving away from old divisions and hostility in the direction of completely owning everyone’s history of survival and triumph as part of our own. And love, don’t forget the Love.

Happy Valentine’s Day!